Psychology Major Activities
There are plenty of ways to get involved as a psychology major. Many schools have psychology clubs, research opportunities, and volunteering opportunities in the local community. Let’s talk a little bit more about each:
1. Psychology clubs. A lot of schools have psychology clubs so students can get more exposure to the field beyond just a classroom setting. At the university I attended, the psychology club had a student run journal (more on journals later), volunteer opportunities, Psi Chi, and weekly meetings. Getting involved with a journal is a great way to gain editing experience. Add that as a line to your CV! Also, the club often had guest speakers from the department. A guest speaker might be a professor, who comes to talk about their research, a graduate student talking about the application process for applying to graduate school, or a career panel. Regardless, guest speakers can be very informative-especially if you’re still just starting out. If you already know you want to do forensic psychology with families for example, then you probably won’t be interested in fMRI techniques with laboratory rats. If you’re just starting on the other hand, getting exposed to people who are already in the field will help you as you find your own direction. Also, psychology clubs often have GRE practice sessions (with a discounted cost of course!), Resume/CV writing help, and other useful information. Also, don’t underestimate the social aspect as well. It definitely can be fun to hang out and get to know your fellow psychology majors. Also when it comes to networking (which is pretty important in the field of psychology), then you will already have connections with professors and fellow students. The people who are very involved are often the ones you will see in class, lab, volunteering, and you may go out with them for purely social reasons. Bottom line: it pays to build relationships with fellow psychology majors. For example, one of my friends who is currently in graduate school at one of the schools I am applying to was able to ask around and give me information about how a particular faculty is to work with (I didn’t even ask), so you never really know how the relationships you invest in will pay off later on. Also, being an officer in psychology club can help you develop leadership skills (and is another line on your CV).
2. Research opportunities. Research is vital for any psychology major, but especially if you’re considering going on to graduate school after you finish your bachelor’s in psychology (you are thinking about graduate school in psychology, right?). This is good if you’re considering a master’s program and absolutely vital if you’re considering a PhD program. It’s probably not worth applying to a PhD program if you don’t have research experience. A PhD in psychology is research-oriented, meaning that it is meant to prepare you for a career in research. But wait, you might say, “I just want to see clients. But I really want the doctorate.” Hey, that’s completely legitimate, I understand. The degree you want is called a PsyD (see the brief Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_of_Psychology). Basically, this degree is a Doctor of Psychology and the goal is to train and prepare you for licensure. But, guess what? You still have to write a dissertation and having research experience will make you more competitive in the admissions process. So, there’s really no downfall to gaining research experience. There are usually plenty of opportunities around: faculty members and graduate students always need undergraduate research assistants who are psychology majors. In some labs you can even volunteer for course credit. So hmm, which sounds better? 1.) Sitting through a boring class on theory that is not even remotely related to your interest (Developmental Psychology for me, full disclosure here) or 2.) Heading off campus to a behavior analysis lab where I got to work with students with problem behaviors a couple times a week. Oh, and the lab was worth more credits, I had the opportunity to work with a nationally recognized faculty member, I learned a lot, helped make a positive impact in some kids’ lives, and I get to put those clinical hours on my CV. I’d say research is a great deal either way you look at it.
3. Other volunteer opportunities. Volunteer opportunities for psychology majors can be pretty wide-ranging. The one I found most rewarding was volunteering at a local suicide hotline. They put me through weeks of training to prepare me for volunteer work as a phone counselor, which was very rewarding overall. I had the opportunity to work with local law enforcement out in the community and all sorts of other opportunities opened up as a result. It was a bit stressful at times, so make sure you’re prepared before you go into something that intense though. There are plenty of other more low-key opportunities. Working with under-served populations is always a good idea. From a graduate school’s perspective this looks good, you get the satisfaction of having helped someone, and they get helped. It’s a win all the way around. You might try your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, VA, or victim’s advocate. If you already have an idea of what you want to do for the future, it will definitely help to try to find a volunteering experience that is related to that. If not, then volunteering could be a great opportunity to try out different things and see what might best suit your interests.